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Gianaris slams Con Ed for salary cuts

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) accused Con Edison last week of paying its maintenance workers low wages and few benefits despite the utility’s $1.2 billion profit last year.

The assemblyman joined members of Con Ed’s cleaning staff and members of Manhattan’s SEIU Local 32BJ union for a rally June 30 in Union Square, where they called on the utility to pay its maintenance workers higher wages.

“I’m calling for Con Ed to treat its workers with respect and to make sure that people are making enough money so that their families are not suffering,” Gianaris said. “The utility has no problem giving multimillion-dollar packages to its executives.”

SEIU Local 32BJ is the nation’s largest union for cleaners, maintenance workers and security guards.

The assemblyman said Con Ed pays some of the maintenance workers at its sites citywide as little as $8 per hour with no health insurance. The utility avoids paying the workers higher wages by hiring subcontractors who keep wages low, he said.

“The total cost of bringing these workers up to a livable wage would be $7 million,” Gianaris said. “[Con Ed CEO] Kevin Burke’s salary approaches $7 million. Con Ed is willing to pay one person the sum of money that would bring hundreds of maintenance staff up to a wage where they could provide for their families. It’s the least they could do.”

A Con Ed spokeswoman said the issue involved a labor dispute between the workers and a contractor. The utility had no further comment.

The utility reported a $1.2 billion profit in 2008.

Western Queens elected officials have long criticized Con Ed following a 10-day power outage in Astoria and Long Island City in the summer of 2006. The blackout left an estimated 174,000 residents without power.

In May, the utility proposed two new rate increase plans for the next several years. Under the first plan, Con Ed would raise rates by $695 million annually for three years, increasing bills for residential customers by as much as $6.48 and for businesses by as much as $751.

The second plan would entail raising the total first-year rates by $854 million with projected increases of $462 million and $391 million during the following two years. Residents could end up paying as much as an additional $8 per month under this plan.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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